National Inclusion Week: Employers explain why the work is never done when it comes to diversity

The Wickes float at Brighton Pride

When a Wickes float proudly displayed a banner declaring “no LGB without the T” at Brighton Pride this year, a national conversation was sparked on corporate inclusion.

The Wickes float received a huge amount of praise, countered by a huge amount of hate, for it’s bold, trans-inclusive messaging.

While the Wickes Pride Network was “blown away” by the positive reaction to its message, it also had to be resilient to deal with the anti-trans backlash.

“We’ve had lots of letters sent into us from some of these groups, and we’ve had the LGB Alliance reach out, we’ve had the Gay Men’s Network reach out, we’ve had different groups with their own beliefs and concerns that have written to us,” Ben Jackson, Wickes’ LGBT+ Network Chair, tells PinkNews.

“But we’ve chosen not to reply… I think that actually trying to explain our message, it would be almost trying to justify something that’s right already and shouldn’t need justifying.”

For National Inclusion Week (26 September to 2 October), a week dedicated to celebrating inclusive employers and highlighting further action needed in the workplace, Wickes explained why this messaging was necessary, and why the work on diversity and inclusion is never done.

“There was no doubt in our minds that this year needed to be the year to take a stand.”

He says it took five years of work to get to this point, setting a “foundation” and knowing that “until we tackled our policies to make sure they were fully inclusive, until we’d set up chat rooms and support groups for each of the different identities, until we’d held listening sessions and all of that kind of great stuff” their messaging couldn’t be “authentic”.

‘Huge amounts of discrimination’

This year, it certainly was.

“We’ve got the full spectrum of the LGBTQ+ identities within our business, and we know that the trans and non-binary community are under huge amounts of discrimination and pressure this year, wherever that be the gender critical groups, whether that be the government, whether that be activity abroad, that’s influencing us.

“With all of those different factors, we know it’s a horrendously tough time for the trans community, and our view, quite clearly, was that we cannot go out without a message that talks about the LGB being with the T.”

Another company celebrating National Inclusion Week is healthcare provider Bupa, which this year ranked third in the Inclusive Companies Top 50 UK Employers List.

For its customers, Bupa has provided sensitivity training to all doctors and a “whole team of nurses have been trained to fully support trans people with both their mental and physical health”. It has also launched new health assessments at its Bupa Health Clinics, in collaboration with the trans charity Sparkle, to make sure that trans patients can access screening they need without being misgendered.

Allison Fox, inclusion and leadership manager at Bupa Global & UK, says creating a supportive environment for employees is just as important as it is for customers.

“We’re very proud that in 2018, Bupa Global & UK launched the Everyone’s Welcome pledge and our Be You at Bupa commitment and network.

“This was then replicated across our Bupa locations around the world. The commitment embraces and celebrates our differences so we can bring our whole selves to work. Our Be You at Bupa network does the same, while helping to educate, develop and support our people across Bupa.”

The company’s Everyone’s Welcome pledge lays out its commitment to increasing awareness around diversity in the workplace, creating a supportive environment for minorities, and “taking action against any form of discrimination, harassment or bullying”.

The Be You at Bupa network currently includes three employee networks: The Pride Network for LGBTQ+ employees and allies, the Access and Inclusion Network, for employees with lived experience of disability and allies, and the First Nations Australian Network for employees who identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander and allies.

“At Bupa we embrace our differences knowing they make us stronger and help better reflect the needs of our customers and communities,” says Fox.

“We believe that having different perspectives and lived experiences promotes understanding and helps generate innovative ideas to solve the problems of a diverse and fast-changing world.

“We want to create a positive working environment, where our people feel safe and seen and are able to be productive, happy and perform to a high level. We also see this as key to both recruitment and retention of talent.”

Jackson agrees, explaining that encouraging colleagues to come to work as their true selves is an “absolute no brainer” because “you’re not going to get the best out of someone, if they’re not being their true self”.

Some of his proudest achievements are the Wickes Pride Network’s implementation of a transitioning at work policy, which includes toolkits for managers, trans colleagues, and extensive information about trans rights in employment, as well as the Wickes allies programme, which trains “any cisgender or heterosexual colleague in our business to become an ally”.

The programme educates cis and straight employees about the challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community, asks them to to make a commit to something they will do differently, and includes a follow-up session to discuss whether they have been active allies.

Wickes also runs a role model programme, which is just getting off the ground, to help LGBTQ+ employees with their career development.

But the work is always evolving.

“National Inclusion Week serves a purpose for us in that it reminds us that we should give a bigger platform to the work we do, he said.

“But as far as we’re concerned, as a business, it’s not just a week-long event. We’re working on inclusion day in, day out, every day of the year, and trying to make those improvements that genuinely make a difference to our colleagues’ and our customers’ lives.”